Family, friends and community members cheered on 13-year-old Sara Kelley as she walked across the finish line of a 5K fundraiser Saturday, a feat that wouldn’t have been possible a few months ago.
Sara collapsed from a seizure last November while walking the track with friends during lunch time at Winston Middle School.
She lost complete control of the left half of her body. After numerous tests, an MRI confirmed that she had suffered a stroke in the right side of her brain.
It took four neuro surgeries and months of intensive therapy before she regained some control of her motor skills.
But, she’s not letting it slow her down.
About 250 people came out to River Forks Park, west of Roseburg, to participate in Strides for Sara, a 5K walk/run (3.1 miles) fundraiser to support her recovery and raise awareness about strokes in children. The proceeds from the race will help pay for Sara’s medical bills and cover costs for physical therapy equipment. In addition, 10 percent of the proceeds will go to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.
Sara’s friends, Kendra Maddox, 13, and Kasey Freilinger, 12, took turns pushing her in a wheelchair throughout the course, when she needed a break from hoofing it.
“I also got a special VIP ride from (the course’s) security,” Sara said.
She said she was happy to see friends and former classmates come out to support her.
“I didn’t think this many people would be out here. I thought maybe 100,” she said.
Sara’s cousin, Alison Ager, 22, of Roseburg organized the fundraiser, with help from friends, family and local businesses, including Frito-Lay, which sent out the Cheetos Chester Cheetah mascot to walk the race.
Ager said more than 200 people pre-registered for the race and that she had already raised about $4,500, not counting people who registered the day of the race, donations from businesses and money from raffle tickets.
“I’m very impressed. When I first had this idea in February, I thought I would get like 45 people, just family and friends. I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback,” she said. “At the end of this, I would like to do it every year and give (the proceeds) to another child who had a stroke.”
Ager said she should have the total amount of money raised by Monday and will post the top 20 runners and their times on the Strides for Sara Facebook page.
Sara’s mother, Kris Ager Kelley, said she has been overwhelmed by the community’s support. “It’s amazing. I’m just blown away,” she said.
“I really appreciate all you guys being here, and I couldn’t have done this without you,” Kris Kelley told the crowd.
She then shared her daughter’s story.
Sara was transported to Doernbecher’s shortly after discovering she had a stroke and doctors found that her carotid arteries had narrowed.
On Nov. 20, 2013, doctors removed half of her skull to relieve some of the pressure from swelling. She stayed at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland while recovering and had to wear a helmet until the bone was put back in.
The Winston Middle School band paid Sara a surprise visit in December and performed a short concert at Randall’s. She had previously played the flute in the band.
“My mom knew they were coming but didn’t tell me,” she said in an interview before the fundraiser.
Sara underwent two more surgeries in January and February because the wound wasn’t healing properly and became infected.
Doctors are still unsure of what caused Sara’s stroke. She didn’t have blood clots or high cholesterol and doesn’t have a family history of stroke, that they know of, Kris Kelley said. “There was no inclination,” she said.
Kris Kelley took a leave of absence from her job to help her daughter recover.
She said Sara is now blind in the left half of each eye and has left-sided weakness. The girl must wear a brace on her left leg, take full-strength aspirin every day, work on strength-training exercises at home, and attend physical, occupational and speech therapy multiple times a week.
Kris Kelley said doctors are not optimistic that her daughter will have complete recovery of her left hand, but said the family remains hopeful.
“We are working on making her self-sufficient,” Kris Kelley said.
Sara’s neuropsychologist told the family that the brain swelling also affected her frontal lobe, which controls a person’s decision-making and problem-solving.
She has since returned to school part-time in Glendale, where her mother lives.
She said she misses her friends from Winston, but that she’s been seeing more of them lately.
Kris Kelley said her goal is to use some of the money from the event to purchase her daughter a tricycle, which provides more balance.
“I want her to be able to participate outside with her friends and get some healthy exercise,” she said.
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and firstname.lastname@example.org.